BY ALEX MCCOWN
“What matters is how bravely one endures defeat.” —Judith Shklar,Ordinary Vices
Elliot, when he returns to Krista Gordon at the end of “v1ew-s0urce.flv”, thinks he’s doing her a favor. She thought she wanted to hear the truth from him, but when she’s confronted by it—both what Elliot knows about her, and what it says about who she is—it’s a terrible blow. Perhaps Elliot thinks this will be a learning experience for her, teaching her that she doesn’t actually want the truth. That, in fact, no one does. Elliot’s not cruel, not really, so it’s possible he thinks a dose of hard reality will actually do her some good, by jarring her out of the sad banalities of her current situation. Maybe it’s as he reasons earlier in the episode, when Gideon tells him he needs someone with whom he can be himself: A view-source for people would be a disaster. After all, Elliot learns hidden truths about people all the time, and he couldn’t be lonelier. The truth never does anyone any good.
Except, there’s Angela Moss.
Elliot’s childhood friend has the central story this week, as her journey into the lion’s den of Colby’s posh home results initially in humiliation, then in acceptance. Terry Colby does himself no favors in the encounter, first horrifying and verbally assaulting Angela with his disgusting genitalia talk, then bringing her back, only to essentially confirm her worst suspicions. Ironically, it seems he hadn’t looked at himself too closely up until now, either, as his caricatured portrait of the 1993 meeting—a bunch of guys smoking cigars and laughing as they did bad things—didn’t turn out to be that far from the truth. They were drunk. They were eating shrimp cocktail. And they knowingly condemned people to death, while the rain came down.
But Angela, to her credit, finally demonstrates her true strength as a character this week. It’s her ability to accept that brutal reveal of the truth. It was as bad as she’d always feared, but rather than the confrontation with reality shutting her down, she embraced it, dealt with it, and was ultimately all the stronger for doing so. She puts the lie to Elliot’s misanthropic cynicism about truth. Not all truths are created equal. Some, the ones you think will help, may indeed crush you emotionally, and only bring pain. But others—the big ones, the ones you normally don’t want to look at too closely, for fear they’ll destroy you—can actually bring release. At the very moment Elliot is confirming his worst fears about honesty, Angela is getting a far more bracing dose of it, but she comes through it cleansed. That’s the upside of having your darkest suspicions confirmed: You can no longer be haunted by the worry of what’s behind the curtain. You try to make certain men like Colby never hide behind those curtains again.
Tyrell Wellick, on the other hand, is the worst of both worlds. On the one hand, he can’t bear to be confronted with truth. A casual conversation among his underlings, in which they call out and mock the very behavior Wellick’s been engaging in, leads him to an angry outburst and a firing of all three men. (I’m just guessing here, but they clearly struck a nerve.) He can’t handle having the view-source of his own identity shown to him. He can’t even tell them why he’s firing them, although in a sense, he’s right: It’s for no reason, no reason beyond his inability to accept who he is. At that moment, he’s no different from the people in Elliot’s mind, wearing their truths like warning signs.
But, on the other hand, seeing things as they are is one of the few cards Wellick has left to play. His desperation leads him to try seducing his new CTO’s wife, armed only with the knowledge that Sharon Knowles wants to be desired. It’s unclear whether he harbored any desire to kill her in advance of their rooftop rendezvous, or whether it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, as impulsive and stupid as his firing of his subordinates. Something tells me it was the latter, at least consciously, as her scornful dismissal of his desires (he may as well have been drenched in flop sweat, in her eyes) triggered the uncontrollable anger we’ve seen Wellick unleash before. But I can’t help suspecting, once again, that part of him hoped it would happen. Tyrell Wellick is a sadist masquerading as a self-styled Nietzschean Übermensch, and his deep-seated rage was going to find a deadly outlet eventually. It’s his insecurity—crying and panicking after the fact, feebly wiping her lips of his DNA—that makes him so compellingly human. And it’s his insatiable fury at being denied the wants of his raging id that make him a monster.
Mr. Robot, by contrast, has a couple of stand-alone scenes this week, both of them all about reminding people of hard truths. “We both know I’m crazy,” he tells Romero, proceeding to pull out a gun and threaten him. That’s a truth of which Romero was well aware, as was his realization that his commitment to Mr. Robot is binding. You can’t promise to see something through and then walk away without consequences. Robot is forcing him to see this through to the end. At least Darlene caught a break, as the Dark Army finally set a meeting. It may have cost her a boyfriend, but she’s not going to have to worry about disappointing Mr. Robot—for now, anyway.
[Which, sidebar: this week was definitely more evidence for the “Mr. Robot isn’t real” team, as it seems likely these scenes were both actually taking place with Elliot, his Mr. Robot persona simply running the show when need be. I still waver a bit about how much is real, but Mr. Robot’s appearance on the stairwell last week suggested strongly he’s a figment of Elliot’s mind.]
Which brings us to the question of how much truth Elliot is actually in possession of, and whether he sees quite as well as he assumes. Much like Wellick, Elliot thinks he sees things as they are. But Elliot also has exploits, and in this case, he refuses to see the most obvious weakness of all: He’s grieving. As we see in the initial flashback, Elliot felt a real connection to Shayla right from the beginning. And, more importantly, he blames himself for her death. “You might be worth a psychopath,” she told him. But nothing was equal to the worth of Shayla. You don’t want to live with the blame of hurting those who meant the most to you—to co-opt Angela’s most honest line, it’s a shitty feeling. And until Elliot acknowledges that grief, it will tear away at his life. It will tear away at those around him. He’ll tear into the social fabric, like he does with his therapist, and unless he sees it for what it is, it will get worse. Given the already ambiguous state of Elliot Alderson’s mind, I’m not sure anyone can handle that.
- I hope none of you had any positive attachments to that FKA Twigs song, because after Mr. Robot made it the soundtrack to Wellick’s grossest act, it’s gonna be tough to enjoy in the same way. Speaking of which, what a masterful use of sound—cutting the music entirely and pulling to an overhead shot the instant Tyrell pulls away from Sharon’s lifeless body, rendering the intimacy null and void.
- I quite liked the scene with Trenton this week. It gives her some good and human shading, knowing that she sees everyone else’s motives as less noble than her own. It’s honest, and egocentric. It makes me quite like her.
- Was Mr. Robot’s gun ploy with Romero an homage to Christian Slater’s character from Heathers? His line about “You should’ve seen the look on your face!” felt like a direct reference to J.D., no?
- Honestly, if someone spoke to me the way Elliot spoke to Krista in that last scene, I would 100 percent call the police. He came across like a psychopath. Love you, Elliot! (Seriously, Rami Malek was obviously fated centuries ago to be born to play this role.)
- Watching Elliot burn his files and name it that Cure album (thanks, MAYORDADA, for pointing that out in the comments), saying it’s the last thing he has of hers, was another nice humanist touch. Elliot may not be dealing with his grief, but he’s definitely hitting the same beats we all go through in loss, albeit in different ways.
- Does anyone know where I can buy Romero’s new product? Asking for a friend.